Technology at the Table

iDiners (n.); A person eating at a restaurant who can do nothing but stare at a phone screen throughout the meal. If the Devil had a dinner party, these would be his guests- you’d better pray you’re not invited.


Smartphones. Aren’t they brilliant? It can contact me with almost anyone at any time of the day. I can speak to them if I want to but I don’t have to. I can use it to send them some letters that they will see and know I am contacting them. It can answer any question I have, it can play any song I want, it will film and photograph anything I find interesting, I can even read books on it. I can check the weather, the news, the stocks, my bank account, I can use it to record TV programmes when I’m not home. My smartphone is smarter than I am. Wow. The 21st century. What a world we live in.

But before we start hanging out the banners and hailing our newest hero, we need to address the newest social faux pas that smartphones have presented to the world. It’s my number one pet peeve- dinner with the iDiner.

There are three key categories of iDiners:

  1. The Food Photographer.

The sanity-questioning act of taking a photograph of the meal placed before us has risen in popularity thanks to the success of Instagram and now the meal we’re about to devour can be remembered as a cherished memory, and can be shared with the whole world (as long as we remember to #hashtag the picture with creatively related tags). The food photographer can be blasé, who boldly declare their intention to take a picture of their meal, or the more subdued, who carefully takes it whilst they think no one is looking. (Of course, someone always is, and they have to shamefully admit to their crime). The food photographer serves little purpose- who really wants to see a blurry, artistically edited picture of a Nandos chicken wing, anyway?

  1. The Fact Checker.

‘Hang on, I’ll google it on my phone!’. The dinner guest with a sure fire way to shut down a conversation is the fact checker. There to save us from the unending turmoil we’ll suffer if we don’t immediately find out who exactly was the bass player in that band we’re only half sure sing that song we’re thinking of, they offer the services of the largest search engine in the world, conveniently at their fingertips and at the dinner table. Thank goodness someone invited them- we can sleep easy tonight.

  1. The Texter.

The food photographer will accept the mockery they receive at the dinner table with good grace. The fact checker is our secret best friend when we’re proved right in an argument over an obscure supporting actor’s career. But the single worst of the three is easily the texter.

The group all sit down at the table. The fact checker will google the wine to verify that it is, in fact, wine and will wax lyrical about some Beaujolais nonsense they’ve read on Wikipedia. The food photographer will photograph the wine, the bread, the starter and finally when the meal arrives they photograph that too, and everyone will ridicule them about it and they will laugh and the evening is still pleasant. Photos and facts done, the phones go away, and we tuck in. The evening’s going well.

But one diner cannot part with their phone. Enter, the texter. Their phone sits on their right hand side, on the table beside their plate. It lurks silently- it makes no sound, but suddenly, it will awaken, the screen will softly glow. We peer across the table and cannot make out the text but we know there’s something there. This is where our dining companion’s downward trajectory will start. They leave the conversation momentarily and glance at the screen. The knife is passed silently into the left hand, held together with the fork, and the phone is lifted with the right. This is it. They’re replying to the text. We’ve lost them from the table forever. They’ve discovered someone far more interesting to talk with via the medium of electronic messages and we dining companions who have taken the time to have a pleasant meal, in person, are no longer needed. Were Dante alive today, the tenth circle of hell would be dinner with a texter.

It is soul destroying trying to include a texter in a conversation and everyone is acutely aware of it, as each in turn glance at them silently willing someone to hurl the phone off the nearest cliff face. We feel embarrassed for the texter because it’s the single rudest thing they can do, and suddenly they’re the backwards member of the party, still struggling with manners in the 21st century. The rest of the group pities them, and silently agree not to invite them next time.

But maybe I’m just getting too cynical in my old age. Perhaps I should embrace the new technology and the opportunities it presents- bring along the friends who couldn’t make it in handy 9cm FaceTime size! Take a photo of dinner in a bid to expand your culinary prowess and recreate it at home! The constant access to a search engine fills you chock full with interesting facts!

I like to think that we are sort of the bridge generation- the first group who suffers the problem and so we can decide our feelings towards it. But we’re stuck at a crossroads where we don’t know whether it is rude or not- half of us think its fine, the rest of us don’t. Technology at the table is not something our ancestors had to worry about, and since it’s our problem we get to decide the solution. So let’s imagine that as the representing generation we take an executive decision and decide to declare it a rude habit. We’ll teach ourselves to leave the phones alone during mealtimes.

That’s fantastic- for now. Because whatever we decide, it’ll change one day.

Generations previous grew up with slapped elbows if they found their way onto the dinner table, but now joints and dishes mix freely as that particular piece of table etiquette falls into the forgotten abyss. Likewise how many people were never taught the once much observed and well-mannered practice of correct knife and fork technique (and how much do you pity them when you observe someone using their cutlery like they were Stone Age tools?). How many people today know to cut bread rolls at lunchtime and to break them open at dinner- a practice that was once seen as simple common knowledge but is now barely acknowledged, let alone observed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no techno-Luddite. I’ll be the first to admit that I am somewhat of a hypocrite; my phone is certainly no stranger to the table. Eating breakfast by myself at half past six in the morning sees me checking Twitter and news sites like they’re the morning paper. Sitting alone in the work canteen and it’s almost a requirement to text friends.

But never with fellow diners. There’s the distinction; it’s not acceptable in company. Do as you like when you’re alone, but please don’t bring your phone to the table if you’re out for a meal with friends (or just at home with family, too).

Don’t feel disheartened if you identify with any of the above groups. To some extent we’ve all fallen prey to each of the three categories. What matters most, of course, is that we’re not repeat offenders. But if you are reading this and thinking, ‘I don’t recognise any of these!’, then you’re the texter. Like the smelly kid at school, there’s one in every class and if you don’t know who it is, it’s probably you.

So for the sake of your dining companions, put the phone away.

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